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San Diego and Arizona Railway

San Diego and Arizona Railway
Reporting mark SDA
Locale California
Dates of operation 1919–1984
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
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Headquarters San Diego, California

The San Diego and Arizona Railway (reporting mark SDA) was a short line U.S. railroad founded by entrepreneur John D. Spreckels, and dubbed "The Impossible Railroad" by engineers of its day due to the immense logistical challenges involved. Established in part to provide San Diego with a direct transcontinental rail link to the east by connecting with the Southern Pacific Railroad (which secretly provided the funding for the endeavor) lines in El Centro, California, the Script error: No such module "convert". route of the SD&A originated in San Diego, California and terminated in El Centro, California.

The company charter was executed on December 14, 1906, and the groundbreaking ceremony was held the following September. Numerous delays (including government intervention during World War I) delayed the completion of the line to November 15, 1919. Damage to the lines from both natural disasters and sabotage exerted great financial pressure on the company, and in 1932 Spreckels' heirs sold their interests in the railroad to the Southern Pacific, which was named the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway (SD&AE).


In 1907 John D. Spreckels broke ground at San Diego, California, for a railroad that would give the city a direct route east. Financial backing for the San Diego & Arizona Railway (SD&A) came from Spreckels and from E. H. Harriman of the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP). The new railroad would bring into San Diego and break the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway's (AT&SF) monopoly there — a reversal of the usual situation in California at that time. The route of the railroad was south across the Mexican border to Tijuana, east to Tecate via the subsidiary Tijuana & Tecate Railway, back to the U.S. and north through Carrizo Gorge, and east to a connection with SP at El Centro, California, the principal town in California's Imperial Valley. In spite of revolution in Mexico and a ban on new construction during World War I, the last spike was driven in 1919.[1]
File:SDA Golden Spike November 15 1919.jpg
J.D. Spreckels drives the "golden spike" to ceremonially complete the San Diego & Arizona Railway on November 15, 1919

In 1932 Spreckels sold his interest to SP, which formed the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway (SD&AE) to assume operations on February 1, 1933. In 1932, work began to repair damage caused by fire and landslides, and on the Goat Canyon Trestle.[2] Upon completion, the Goat Trestle became the "world's largest wooden trestle",[3] it is also the "longest, tallest curved wooden trestle ever built in the United States."[4] In 1951 the SD&AE ioperated its last passenger train. The slow trip east to a connection with the secondary trains of SP's Golden State Route — and El Centro was not on the main line — could not compete with AT&SF's frequent San Diegans to Los Angeles and the best of AT&SF, SP and Union Pacific from there. In 1970 SP sold the Tijuana & Tecate to the Mexican government; it has become an isolated part of the Sonora-Baja California Railway. (SP retained trackage rights for through traffic.) A hurricane in September 1976 damaged a Script error: No such module "convert". stretch of line, and SP petitioned for abandonment of all but a few miles from El Centro to Plaster City, California.[1]

In 1979 San Diego's Metropolitan Development Board (MTDB) purchased three portions of the SD&AE: from Plaster City to the border, from San Diego south of the border between San Ysidro. California, and Tijuana, Baja California, and from San Diego east to El Cajon. MTDB began construction of a Script error: No such module "convert". transit line from the Amtrak (former AT&SF) station in San Diego to the border. The trolley line, which was constructed without federal funds, shared track with the freight trains of the SD&AE. Trolleys began operating in July 1981.[1]

MTDB contracted with Kyle Railways to operate freight service on the line. Kyle set up the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Transportation Company for that purpose. SD&AE also operates the Mexican segment of the line, not only to connect the two U.S. portions of its line but also to do local work for Sonora-Baja California. Operations was taken over by the San Diego & Imperial Valley Railroad on October 13, 1984.[1]


  • 1873: The Texas & Pacific Railroad fails in an attempt to establish a direct rail link between San Diego and the east during the Panic of 1873.
  • 1905: The San Diego & Eastern Railroad (SD&E) conducts a survey for a planned rail line to Arizona but folds prior to commencing track laying.
  • December 14, 1906: John D. Spreckels announces he will form the San Diego & Arizona Railway Company (SD&A) and build a Script error: No such module "convert". line between San Diego and El Centro, California. Spreckels has an agreement with the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) to silently fund the project.
  • September 7, 1907: Groundbreaking ceremonies for the SD&A are held in downtown San Diego at the foot of 26th Street (now known as Dewey Street) and Main Street. The line will follow in part the route surveyed by the defunct SD&E.
File:SDA&Ry train.jpg
The first SD&A passenger train bound for San Diego, December 1, 1919
  • 1909: The Mexican Government orders the SD&A to form the Tijuana & Tecate Railway Company, which will construct and hold a 99-year lease on the Script error: No such module "convert". Mexican rail segment.
  • July 29, 1910: The first passenger train on the SD&A enters Mexico.
  • 1911: Mexican revolutionaries mount several attacks on the SD&A construction crews to conscript soldiers and supplies, and cut telephone wires.
  • 1916: The Great Flood washes out several rail lines. World War I increases the cost of railway construction materials by 50 to 150 percent.
  • 1917: The U.S. federal government seizes control of all railroads and stops construction of the SD&A as part of its war effort to conserve resources, but later grants Spreckels special exemption on the grounds the SD&A will serve a military installation. The SD&A absorbs the struggling San Diego & Southeastern Railway (SDSR), assuming operation of the company's steam divisions and gas-electric motor cars. The San Diego Electric Railway (SDERy) continues to operate the interurban line to Chula Vista under lease. The remaining SDSR tracks not damaged in the previous year's flooding function as a bridge line between the SD&A and SDERy, which allows for the interchange of freight traffic.
  • November 15, 1919: The golden spike is driven and construction of the SD&A is completed at a cost of $18 million (three times the original estimate).[5]
The first SD&A through passenger train in San Diego, December 1, 1919
  • December 1, 1919: The first passenger train arrives in San Diego from El Centro for the official line opening ceremony.
  • December 10, 1919: Through Pullman service to Chicago is initiated; the cars are switched to SP's Golden State passenger train in Yuma, Arizona.
  • 1922: A new emblem, depicting a scene in the Carrizo Gorge and lettered "San Diego Short Line," is adopted.
  • 1926, 1927, 1929: Heavy rains destroy sections of trackage east of San Diego.
  • 1928: Motor service to La Mesa and Lakeside is discontinued.
  • January 1932: Fire breaks out in Tunnel 3 in Baja California, which leads to a collapse; repairs take 45 days.
  • March 27, 1932: A mountain slide, loosened by heavy rains, blocks the line in the vicinity of Tunnel 15. Repairs are completed and freight and passenger services are re-established by July 7.
  • October 22, 1932: Tunnel 7 burns; subsequently abandoned.
  • October 24, 1932: Financial problems force Spreckels' heirs to transfer their share of SD&A ownership to SP for $2.8 million.
  • January 23, 1933: A bypass track along the cliff at Tunnel 7 is completed; line is reopened to traffic.
  • February 1, 1933: The San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway assumes all operations of the SD&A.
  • December 1985: the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum revives the historic San Diego & Arizona Railway name, inaugurating its Golden State demonstration passenger trains from Campo, California east to Miller Creek and west to Division and Tunnel 4 at the Mexican border.[6]

See also

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  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Drury, George H. (1994). The Historical Guide to North American Railroads: Histories, Figures, and Features of more than 160 Railroads Abandoned or Merged since 1930. Waukesha, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing. pp. 293–294. ISBN 0-89024-072-8. 
  2. Reena Deutsch, Ph.D. (4 September 2012). San Diego and Arizona Railway:: The Impossible Railroad. Arcadia Publishing. p. 114. ISBN 978-1-4396-4047-0. 
  3. Cowan, Ernie (2 May 2004). "World's largest wooden trestle is in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park". North County Times (San Diego County, California). Archived from the original on 1 May 2004. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  4. Baran, Robert (29 May 2010). "Goat Canyon Trestle Trek". San Diego Reader. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  5. Pourade, Richard F. (1965). Gold in the Sun (1st ed.). San Diego: The Union-Tribune Publishing Company. p. 245. ISBN 0-913938-04-1. 
  6. Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association

Further reading

External links